A Fine, Generous Fellow
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
My friend Peyton was what is called a "fine, generous fellow." He valued money only as a means of obtaining what he desired, and was always ready to spend it with an acquaintance for mutual gratification. Of course, he was a general favorite. Everyone spoke well of him, and few hesitated to give his ears the benefit of their good opinion. I was first introduced to him when he was some twenty-two years of age. Peyton was then a clerk in the receipt of six hundred dollars a year. He grasped my hand with an air of frankness and sincerity, which at once installed him in my good opinion. A little pleasure excursion was being planned, and he insisted upon my joining it. I readily consented. There were five of us, and the expense to each, if borne mutually, would have been something like one dollar. Peyton managed everything, even to paying the bills; and when I offered to repay him my proportion, he said —
"No, no!" — pushing back my hand — "nonsense!"
"Yes; but I must insist upon meeting my share of the expense."
"Not a word more. The bill's settled, and you needn't trouble your head about it," was his reply; and he seemed half offended when I still urged upon him to take my portion of the cost.
"What a fine, generous fellow Peyton is!" said one of the party to me, as we met on the next day.
"Did he also refuse to let you share in the expense of our excursion?" I asked.
"After what he said to you, I was afraid of offending him by proposing to do so."
"He certainly is generous — but, I think, to a fault, if I saw a fair specimen of his generosity yesterday."
"We should be just, as well as generous."
"I never heard that he was not just."
"Nor I. But I think he was not just to himself. And I believe it will be found to appear in the end, that, if we are not just to ourselves, we will, somewhere in life, prove unjust to others. I think that his salary is not over twelve dollars a week. If he bore the whole expense of our pleasure excursion, it cost him within a fraction of half his earnings for a week. Had we all shared alike, it would not have been a serious matter to any of us."
"Oh! as to that, it is no very serious matter to him. He will never think of it."
"But, if he does so very frequently, he may feel it sooner or later," I replied.
"I'm sure I don't know anything about that," was returned. "He is a generous fellow, and I cannot but like him. Indeed, everyone likes him."
A few evenings afterwards I met Peyton again.
"Come, let us have some oysters," said he.
I did not object. We went to an oyster-house, and ate and drank as much as our appetites craved. He paid the bill!
Same days afterwards, I fell in with him again, and, in order to recompense a little, invited him to go and get some refreshments with me. He consented. When I put my hand in my pocket to pay for them, his hand went into his. But I was too quick for him. He seemed uneasy about it. He could feel pleased while giving, but it evidently worried him to be the recipient.
From that time, for some years, I was intimate with the young man. I found that he set no true value upon money. He spent it freely with everyone; and every one spoke well of him. "What a generous, whole-souled fellow he is!" or, "What a noble heart he has!" were the expressions constantly made in regard to him. While "Mean fellow!" "Miserly dog!" and other such epithets, were unsparingly used in speaking of a quiet, thoughtful young man, named Merwin, who was clerk with him in the same store. Merwin appeared to set an inordinate value upon money. He rarely indulged himself in any way, and it was with difficulty that he could ever be induced to join in any pleasures which involved expense. But I always observed that when he did so, he was exact about paying his proportion.
About two years after my acquaintance with Peyton began, an incident let me deeper into the character and quality of his generosity. I called one day at the house of a poor widow woman who washed for me, to ask her to do up some clothes, extra to the usual weekly washing. I thought she looked as if she were in trouble about something, and said so to her.
"It's very hard, at best," she replied, "for a poor woman, with three or four children to provide for, to get along — especially if, like me, she has to depend upon washing and ironing for a living. But when so many neglect to pay her regularly — "
"Neglect to pay their washerwoman!" I said, in a tone of surprise, interrupting her.
"Oh, yes. Many do that!"
"Dashing young men, who spend their money freely, are too apt to neglect these little matters, as they call them."
"And do young men, for whom you work, really neglect to pay you?"
"Some do. There are at least fifteen dollars now owed to me, and I don't know which way to turn to get my last month's rent for my landlord, who has been after me three times this week already. Mr. Peyton owes me ten dollars, and I can't — "
"Mr. Peyton? It can't be possible!"
"Yes, it is, though. He used to be one of the most punctual young men I washed for. But, of late, he never has any money."
"He's a very generous-hearted young man."
"Yes, I know he is," she replied. "But something is wrong with him. He looks worried whenever I ask him for money; and sometimes speaks as if half angry with me for troubling him. There's Mr. Merwin — I wish all were like him. I have never yet taken home his clothes, that I didn't find the money waiting for me, exact to a cent. He counts every piece when he lays out his washing for me, and knows exactly what it will come to: and then, if he happens to be out, the change is always left with the chambermaid. It's a pleasure to do anything for him."
"He isn't liked generally as well as Mr. Peyton is," said I.
"Isn't he? It's strange!" the poor woman returned, innocently.
On the very next day, I saw Peyton riding out with an acquaintance in a buggy.
"Who paid for your ride, yesterday?" I said to the latter, with whom I was quite familiar, when next we met.
"Oh, Peyton, of course. He always pays, you know. He's a fine, generous fellow. I wish there were more like him."
"That you might ride out for nothing a little oftener, hey?"
My friend colored slightly.
"No, not that," said he. "But you know there is so much selfishness in the world; we hardly ever meet a man who is willing to make the slightest sacrifice for the good of others."
"True. And I suppose it is this very selfishness that makes us so warmly admire a man like Mr. Peyton, who is willing to gratify us at his own charge. It's a pleasant thing to ride out and see the country, but we are apt to think twice about the costs before we act once. But if some friend will only stand the expense, how generous and whole-souled we think him! It is the same in everything else. We like the enjoyments, but can't afford the expense; and he is a generous, fine-hearted fellow, who will squander his money in order to gratify us. Isn't that it, my friend?" said I, slapping him on the shoulder.
He looked half convinced, and a little sheepish, to use an expressive Saxonism.
On the evening succeeding this day, Peyton sat alone in his room, his head leaning upon his hand, and his brow contracted. There was a tap at his door. "Come in." A poorly-clad, middle-aged woman entered. It was his washerwoman.
The lines on the young man's brow became deeper.
"Can't you let me have some money, Mr. Peyton? My landlord is pressing hard for his rent, and I cannot pay him until you pay me."
"Really, Mrs. Lee, it is impossible just now; I am entirely out of money. But my salary will be due in three weeks, and then I will pay you the whole. You must make your landlord wait until that time. I am very sorry to put you to this trouble. But it will never happen again."
The young man really did feel sorry, and expressed it in his face as well as in the tone of his voice.
"Can't you let me have one or two dollars, Mr. Peyton? I am entirely out of money."
"It is impossible — I haven't a penny left. But try and wait three weeks, and then it will all come to you in a lump, and do you a great deal more good than if you had it a dollar at a time."
Mrs. Lee retired slowly, and with a disappointed air. The young man sighed heavily as she closed the door after her. He had been too generous, and now he could not be just. The buggy in which he had driven out with his friend on that day had cost him his last two dollars — a sum which would have lightened the heart of his poor washerwoman.
"The fact is, my salary is too small," said he, rising and walking about his room uneasily. "It is not enough to support me. If the account were fully made up, tailor's bill, bootmaker's bill, and all, I dare say I would find myself at least three hundred dollars in debt."
Merwin received the same salary that he did, and was just three hundred dollars ahead. He dressed as well, owed no man a dollar, and was far happier. It is true, he was not called a "fine, generous fellow," by people who took good care of their own money, while they were very willing to enjoy the good things of life at a friend's expense. But he did not mind this. The lack of such a reputation did not disturb his mind very seriously.
After Mrs. Lee had been gone half an hour, Peyton's door was flung suddenly open. A young man, bounding in, with extended hand came bustling up to him.
"Ah, Peyton, my fine fellow! How are you? how are you?" And he shook Peyton's hand quite vigorously.
"Hearty! — and how are you, Freeman?"
"Oh, as mirthful as a lark. I have come to ask a favor of you."
"I need fifty dollars."
Peyton shrugged his shoulders.
"I must have it, my boy! I never yet knew you to desert a friend, and I don't believe you will do so now."
"Suppose I haven't fifty dollars?"
"You can borrow it for me. I only want it for a few days. You shall have it back on next Monday. Try for me — there's a generous fellow!"
"There's a generous fellow," was irresistible. It came home to Peyton in the right place. He forgot poor Mrs. Lee, his unpaid tailor's bill, and sundry other troublesome accounts.
"If I can get an advance of fifty dollars on my salary tomorrow, you shall have it."
"Thank you! thank you! I knew I wouldn't have to ask twice when I called upon Henry Peyton. It always does me good to grasp the hand of such a man as you are."
On the next day, an advance of fifty dollars was asked and obtained. This sum was loaned as promised. In two weeks, the individual who borrowed it was in New Orleans, from whence he had the best of reasons for not wishing to return to the north. Of course, the generous Henry Peyton lost his money.
An increase of salary to a thousand dollars only made him less careful of his money. Before, he lived as freely as if his income had been one-third above what it was; now, he increased his expenses in a like ratio. It was a pleasure to him to spend his money — not for himself alone, but among his friends.
It is no cause of wonder, that in being so generous to some — he was forced to be unjust to others. He was still behindhand with his poor old washer-woman — owed for boarding, clothes, hats, boots, and a dozen other matters — and was, in consequence, a good deal harassed with bills. Still, he was called by some of his old cronies, "a fine, generous fellow." A few were rather colder in their expressions. He had borrowed money from them, and did not offer to return it; and he was such a generous-minded young man, that they felt a delicacy about calling his attention to it.
"Can you raise a couple of thousand dollars?" was asked of him by a friend, when he was twenty-seven years old. "If you can, I know a first-rate chance to get into business."
"Indeed! What is the nature of it?"
The friend told him all he knew, and he was satisfied that a better offering might never present itself. But two thousand dollars were indispensable.
"Can't you borrow it?" suggested the friend.
"I will try."
"Try your best. You will never again have such an opportunity."
Peyton did try, but in vain. Those who could lend it to him considered him "too good-hearted a fellow" to trust with money; and he was forced to see that tide, which if he could have taken it at the flood, would have led him on to fortune, slowly and steadily recede.
To Merwin the same offer was made. He had fifteen hundred dollars laid up, and easily procured the balance. No one was afraid to trust him with money.
"What a fool I have been!" was the mental exclamation of Peyton, when he learned that his fellow-clerk had been able, with his own earnings, on a salary no larger than his own, to save enough to embrace the golden opportunity which he was forced to pass by. "They call Merwin mean and selfish — and I am called a generous fellow. That means, he has acted like a wise man, and I like a fool, I suppose. I know him better than they do. He is neither mean nor selfish, but careful and prudent, as I ought to have been. His mother is poor, and so is mine. Ah, me!" and the thought of his mother caused him to clasp both hands against his forehead. "I believe two dollars of his salary have been sent weekly to his poor mother. But I have never helped mine with a single cent. There is the mean man, and here is the generous one. Fool! fool! wretch! He has fifteen hundred dollars ahead, after having sent his mother one hundred dollars a year for five or six years, and I am over five hundred dollars in debt. A fine, generous fellow, truly!"
The mind of Peyton was, as it should be, disturbed to its very center. His eyes were fairly opened, and he saw just where he stood, and what he was worth as a generous man.
"They have flattered my pride," said he, bitterly, "to eat and drink and ride at my expense. It was easy to say, 'how free-hearted he is,' so that I could hear them. A cheap way of enjoying the good things of life, truly! But the end has come to all this. I am just twenty-seven years old today; in five years more I shall be thirty-two. My salary is one thousand dollars. I pay one hundred and fifty dollars a year for boarding; one hundred and fifty more shall clothe me and furnish all my spending-money, which shall be precious little. One year from today, if I live, I will owe no man a dollar. My kind old mother, whom I have so long neglected, shall hear from me at once — ten dollars every month I dedicate to her. Come what will, nothing shall touch that. After I am clear of debt, I will save all above my necessary expenses, until I get one or two thousand dollars ahead, which shall be in five years. Then I will look out for a golden opportunity, such as Mervin has found. This agreement with myself I solemnly enter into in the sight of Heaven, and nothing shall tempt me to violate it."
"Are you going to ride out this afternoon, Peyton?" inquired a young friend, breaking in upon him at this moment.
"Yes, if you'll hire the buggy," was promptly returned.
"I can't afford that."
"Nor I either. How much is your salary?"
"Only a thousand."
"Just what mine is. If you can't, I am sure I cannot."
"Of course, you ought to be the best judge. I knew you rode out almost every afternoon, and liked company."
"Yes, I have done so; but that's past. I have been a 'fine, generous fellow,' long enough to get in debt and mar my prospects for life, perhaps; but I am going to assume a new character. No doubt the very ones who have had so many rides, oyster suppers, and theater tickets at my expense, will all at once discover that I am as mean and selfish as Mervin; but it's no great odds. I only wish I had been as truly noble and generous in the right quarters as he has been."
"You are in a strange humor today."
"I am in a changed humor. That it is so very strange, I do not see — unless for me to think wisely is strange, and perhaps it is."
"Well, all I have to say is, that I, for one, do not blame you, even if I do lose a fine ride into the country now and then," was the frank response.
Peyton went to work in the matter of reform in right good earnest, but he found it hard work; old habits and inclinations were very strong. Still he had some strength of mind, and he brought this into as vigorous exercise as it was possible for him to do, mainly with success, but sometimes with gentle lapses into self-indulgence.
His mother lived in a neighboring town, and was in humble circumstances. She supported herself by keeping a shop for the sale of various little articles. The old lady sat behind her counter, one afternoon, sewing, and thinking of her only son.
"Ah, me!" she sighed, letting her hands fall wearily in her lap, "I thought Henry would have done something for himself long before this; but he is a wild, free-hearted boy, and I suppose spends everything as he goes along, just as his father did. I'm afraid he will never do anything for himself. It is a long time since he wrote home. Ah, me!"
And the mother lifted her work again, and strained her dimmed eyes over it.
"Here's a letter for you at last, Mother Peyton," said the well-known voice of the postman, breaking in upon her just at this moment. "That boy of yours doesn't write home as often as he used to."
"A letter from Henry! Oh, that is pleasant! Dear boy! he doesn't forget his mother."
With trembling hands, Mrs. Peyton broke the seal; a bank-bill crumpled in her fingers as she opened the letter. A portion of its contents was:
"Dear Mother — I have had some very serious thoughts of late about my way of living. You know I never liked to be considered mean; this led me to be, what seemed to everybody, very generous. Everybody was pleased to eat, and drink, and ride at my expense; but no one seemed inclined to let me do the same at his expense. I have been getting a good salary for six or seven years, and, for a part of that time, as much as a thousand dollars. I am ashamed to say that I have not a penny saved up; no, what is worse, I owe a good many little bills. But, dear mother, I think I have come fairly to my senses. I have come to a resolution not to spend a dollar foolishly; thus far I have been able to keep my promise to myself, and, by the help of Heaven, I mean to keep it to the end. My first thought, on seeing my folly, was of my shameful disregard to my mother's condition. In this letter are ten dollars. Every month you will receive from me a like sum — more, if you need it. As soon as I can save up a couple of thousand dollars, I will look around for some means of entering into business, and, as soon after as possible, make provision for you, that your last days may be spent in ease and comfort."
"God bless the dear boy!" exclaimed Mrs. Peyton, dropping the letter, while the tears gushed from her eyes. The happy mother wept long for joy. With her trembling hand she wrote a reply, and urged him, by the tenderest and most sacred considerations, to keep to his good resolutions.
At the end of a year Peyton examined his affairs, and found himself freed from debt; but there were nearly one hundred dollars for which he could not account. He puzzled over it for one or two evenings, and made out over fifty dollars spent foolishly.
"No doubt the rest of it will have to be passed to that account," said he, at last, half angry with himself. "I'll have to watch closer than this. At the end of the next year, I'll not be in doubt about where a hundred dollars have gone."
It was but rarely, now, that you would hear the name of Peyton mentioned. Before, everybody said he was a "fine, generous fellow;" everybody praised him. Now he seemed to be forgotten, or esteemed of no consideration. He felt this; but he had started to accomplish a certain end, and he had sufficient strength of mind not to be driven from his course.
"Have you seen Peyton of late?" I asked, some two years after this change in his habits. I spoke to one of his old intimate associates.
"No, not for a month of Sundays," was his lightly-spoken reply. "What a remarkable change has passed over him! Once, he used to be a fine, generous fellow — his heart was in his hand; but now he is as stingy as a miser, and even more selfish: he will neither give nor take. If you happen to be walking with him, and, after waiting as long as decency will permit to be asked to step in somewhere for refreshments, you propose something, he meets you with — 'No, thank you, I am not thirsty,' or hungry, as the case may be. It's downright savage, it is!"
"This is a specimen of the way in which the world estimates men," said I to myself, after separating from the individual who complained thus of Peyton. "The world is very partial in its judgment of men's conduct!"
At the end of five years from the time Peyton reformed his loose habits, he had saved up and placed out at interest the sum of two thousand dollars; and this, after having sent to his mother, regularly, ten dollars every month during the whole period. The fact that he had saved so much was not suspected by any. It was supposed that he had saved up some money, but no one thought he had over four or five hundred dollars.
"I wish you had about three thousand dollars," said Merwin to him, one day. Merwin's business had turned out well. In five years, he had cleared over twenty thousand dollars.
"Why?" asked Peyton.
"I know a first-rate chance for you."
"There is a very good business that has been fairly established, and is now languishing for lack of a little capital. The man who has made it will take a partner if he can bring in three thousand dollars, which would make the whole concern easy, perfectly safe, and sure of success."
"It's more than I have," returned Peyton, in a voice that was slightly sad.
"So I supposed," Merwin said.
"Although such needn't have been the case, if I had acted as wisely as you through life."
"It's never too late to mend our ways, you know."
"True. But a year mis-spent, is a whole year lost. No matter how hard we strive, we can never make it up. To the day of our death, there will be one year deficient in the sum of life's account."
"A just remark, no doubt. How much would every man save, if he would take good care not only of his years, but of his weeks and days! The sum of life is made up of small aggregations."
"And so the sum of a man's fortune. A dollar mis-spent is a dollar lost, and never can be regained. You say that it will require three thousand dollars to admit a partner into the business of which you just spoke?"
"Yes. Nothing less will do."
"I have but two thousand."
"Have you so much, Peyton?" said Merwin, with a brightening face.
"Right glad am I to hear it. I only wish that I could furnish you with a thousand more. But it is out of my power entirely. Our business requires the use of every dollar we have; and it would not be just to my partner to draw out so large a sum for the purpose of assisting a friend in whom he can feel no interest."
"No, of course not. I neither ask nor expect it. I will wait a little longer. Something else will offer."
"But nothing so really advantageous as this. Let me see. I think I might get you five hundred dollars, if you could borrow as much more."
"That I cannot do. I never asked a favor of anyone in my life."
"Though you have dispensed thousands."
"Foolishly perhaps. But no matter. I will wait."
A week afterward, Peyton, who dismissed all thought of embracing the proposed offer of going in business, paid a visit to his mother. He had not seen her for a year. She was still cheerful, active, and retained her usual good health.
"I think it time you gave up this shop, mother," said he to her. "You are too old now to be working so hard. I've got something saved up for a rainy day, in case anything should go wrong with me for a time. You will give up this shop, won't you?"
"No, Henry; not yet. I am still able to help myself, and so long as I am able, I wish to do it. If you have saved anything, you had better keep it until an opportunity for going into business offers."
"Such a chance has just presented itself. But I hadn't capital enough."
"How much have you saved?"
"Two thousand dollars."
"So much? How much is required?"
"Three thousand dollars."
"And you have but two?"
"That is all — though a friend did offer to get me five hundred more. But twenty-five hundred is not sufficient. There must be three thousand."
Mrs. Peyton made no reply. She sat a few minutes, and then arose and went upstairs. In about ten minutes she came down, and approaching her son, with a warm glow of pleasure upon her face, placed a small roll in his hands, saying as she did so —
"There is all you need, my son. The money you sent me so regularly for the last five years, I have kept untouched for some such moment as this. I did not feel that I needed it. Take it back, and start fairly in the world. In a few more years I may need rest, as life draws nearer to a close. Then I trust you will be in circumstances so good that I needn't feel myself a burden to you."
"A burden? Dear mother! Do not speak of ever being a burden to me," said the young man, embracing his mother with tearful emotion. "No — no," and he pushed back her hand; "I cannot take that money. It is yours. I will not risk in business, the little treasure you have saved up so carefully. I may not succeed. No — no!" and he still pushed back his mother's hand — "it is of no use — I cannot — I will not take it!"
The roll of money fell to the floor.
"It is yours, Henry, not mine," urged the mother. "I did not stand in need of it."
"Your son owed you much more than that. He was wrong that he did not double the amount to you, in order to make up for former years of neglect. No — no — I tell you, mother, I cannot take your money. Nothing would tempt me to do it. I will wait a little longer. Other opportunities will soon offer."
It was in vain that Mrs. Peyton urged her son, until her distress of mind became so great that he was almost forced to receive the money she pushed upon him — although, in doing so, it was with the intention of leaving it behind him when he returned to the city. But the deep satisfaction evinced by his mother, on his consenting to take it, was of a kind that he did not feel it would be right for him to do violence to. When he did return to the city, he could not find it in his heart to leave the money, just six hundred dollars, on the table in the little room where he slept, as he had at first resolved to do. He took it with him; but with the intention of investing it for her in some safe security.
When he again met Merwin, he was urged so strongly to make an effort to raise the capital requisite to become a partner in the business that had been named to him, that after some severe struggles with himself, he at last consented to use the money he had brought home with him. His friend loaned him four hundred dollars to make up the required sum.
The business succeeded beyond his expectations. In a few years he was able to marry, and live in a very comfortable style. He would hear none of the objections urged by his mother against living with him, but shut up her shop in spite of her remonstrances, and brought her to the city. No one who saw her during the remaining ten years of her life would have called her unhappy.
I know Peyton still. He is not now, by general reputation, "a fine, generous fellow." But he is a good citizen, a good husband, and a good father; and was a good son while his mother lived with him. He has won the means of really benefitting others, and few are more willing than he is to do it, when it can be done in the right way. He is "generous" still — but wisely so.